SBJ/July 11-17, 2011/Leagues and Governing Bodies

East-West tilt for LPGA?

Tour pitches hybrid stroke-play/match-play event

The LPGA is pitching the idea of a hybrid tournament that would have both stroke-play and match-play components, showing a continued willingness to stretch the game’s traditional model to appeal to sponsors.

Jon Podany, the LPGA’s chief marketer, is calling the concept the East-West Challenge. It would pit players from the Americas and Europe against players from Asia in a one-day match-play showdown on the heels of a 54-hole stroke-play tournament.

“It’s something that would play off our global strength and introduce a new element to the four-day tournament,” Podany said. “We think it’s the kind of thing that would appeal to TV, sponsors and fans.”

The tournament would launch in 2012 at the earliest and at a course to be determined. The debut event most likely would be played in the United States, but the host site could rotate annually in and out of the country depending on interest from other markets.

Podany said he’s optimistic a title sponsor will be found based on early feedback.

“We like it for a lot of reasons,” he said. “It adds some pizzazz to Saturday, which now becomes the final round of the stroke-play tournament, and gives fans more of a reason to be there on Saturday. Then on Sunday, you’ll have match-play matches that lend themselves to great matchups.”

The tournament would begin as most do on the LPGA Tour: with a 144-player field teeing off on Thursday. The 54-hole, stroke-play tournament would conclude on Saturday. On Sunday, East would play West in a match-play format similar to the final day of the Solheim Cup, with 12 singles matches in a one-day showdown. The East-West Challenge would be a way to include Asian players, who are a dominant group on the tour but are not part of the Solheim Cup, which pits U.S. players against Europeans.

The top eight or 10 players on each side would be determined by how they finished in the stroke-play event. The final two to four spots on each team would be decided by world ranking.

Podany said the idea for the East-West Challenge grew out of a conversation with a prospective sponsor, who requested a format that appealed to a global audience while incorporating match play.

Understanding that it must be flexible in its approach with sponsors, the LPGA has tweaked a handful of events to appease title sponsors.

The Sybase Match Play Championship created a second pro-am on the Friday of that tournament in May. Sybase, a Dublin, Calif.-based technology and software company, wanted the event for its client entertainment and business-to-business opportunities more so than the media and marketing. It worked with the tournament’s organizer, Octagon, and the LPGA to have that second pro-am.

The tour also has worked with RR Donnelly on alternative format ideas for the Founders Cup and with CME Group on the Titleholders.
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